WATERVILLE — Mayor Nick Isgro claims city councilors conspired against him when they allowed resident Bob Vear to attack him verbally at Tuesday’s council meeting, a claim both Vear and at least some councilors say is false.

Isgro posted a letter on his personal Facebook page saying councilors knew about Vear’s plan to criticize him publicly. Isgro earlier this month declared Oct. 14 Columbus Day in Waterville despite the state law naming it Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus Day remains the name of the federal holiday.

Vear, who says he is one-eighth Abenaki, told Isgro at Tuesday’s council meeting that he was disrespectful and lambasted him for mocking indigenous peoples in his Twitter feed. Isgro tried to shut Vear down, but Vear continued, yelling at the mayor repeatedly and saying he was going to stay put. As Isgro slammed his gavel, adjourned the meeting and walked out, councilors remained and allowed Vear to continue speaking.

Isgro’s Facebook letter, posted within the last couple of days, claims Councilor Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5, had seen Vear’s speech ahead of the meeting and that when Isgro sought help from councilors as Vear ranted, “each one simply sat and signaled that they were okay with Mr. Vear violently seizing control.”

“Friends, this was a preconceived plot hatched by the very members of our council that claim they want to ‘end the divide’ and ‘bring people together,’ ” Isgro’s letter says. “Rather than work to do that, and blinded by hatred, they have chosen to attack me because I continue to fight for each and every one of you.”

Coelho and Vear on Friday pushed back against Isgro’s claim that Coelho had seen Vear’s speech before the meeting. Coelho said Vear advised him he was going to read a speech at the meeting, but Coelho said he did not want to see it ahead of time.

“I never got an advanced copy,” Coelho said.

He and Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, said Friday that only the council has the authority to adjourn a meeting and when Isgro declared it adjourned, they remained because it was the consensus of councilors to do so.

“That’s not how that works,” Coelho said, of Isgro’s adjourning the meeting. “You don’t usurp the council in order to do what you want to do. Our system doesn’t work that way.”

Mayhew said that, as chairman, it was his duty to run the meeting after Isgro left, and he looked to the rest of the council for consensus on whether they wanted to continue or adjourn. The consensus was to stay and allow Vear and others waiting in line to speak.

“That’s why we continued the meeting, and ultimately it did diffuse the situation because Bob was done fairly quickly,” Mayhew said.

From that point on at the meeting, Vear spoke in low tones, often breaking down and crying. He said the mayor has tarnished the city and he called on him to resign.

“Mayor Isgro, you do not let us speak freely and are not afraid to use your gavel when crosshairs are pointed in your direction,” Vear said. “That is definitely not leadership at its finest. Leadership is earned. Leadership is accepting peaceful agreement. Leadership leads to a community that accepts all to the table to converse, mutually, across aisles, and that (Isgro’s leadership) is not the kind of leadership we need in these ever-changing times of ours.”

Bob Vear speaks Tuesday at the Waterville Council meeting. Vear criticized Mayor Nick Isgro for his stance on Columbus Day and his treatment of people who celebrated Indigenous People’s Day in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file photo by Amy Calder

Earlier, when Isgro was in the room, Vear criticized him for a tweet in which the mayor mocked indigenous peoples who held a rally Monday outside City Hall, saying he hoped those who came from out of town to attend the rally spent money at local restaurants and businesses while they were here.

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, said Friday that he did not leave the council meeting after Isgro did, not because he approved of what Vear was doing, but because he knew that other people wanted to speak and leaving would not be fair to them. Thomas said he thought the best way to diffuse the situation was to allow Vear to speak.

“He should be specific about who he’s referring to,” Thomas said of Isgro’s letter, “because as far as I know, he knows I wasn’t involved in any plot against him.”

Thomas said Isgro’s letter implies all of the council was part of a plot and unfairly throws all councilors under the bus. Thomas also objected to using social media to debate issues.

“I don’t think hashing these things out on Facebook is useful, so I wish that people would just talk to each other, face to face,” he said.

Contacted by phone and via email Friday for comment, Isgro emailed that he was not sure if a reporter knew Vear had checked himself into emergency mental health care.

“Your reporting will continue to make his situation worse when we should frankly all be praying for his well being after being used the way he was,” Isgro wrote. He went on to say that for once, newspaper bosses should “live up to the social responsibility they  profess to have.”

But in a lengthy interview Friday, Vear dismissed Isgro’s claim that speaking his mind would make his situation worse, saying he is an open book and does not mind people knowing he voluntarily is seeking help for two days to try to get back to his old self.

“I got to put my head back on so I can help the next guy,” he said. “I’m not ashamed.”

Vear said he once supported Isgro and has an “Isgro for Mayor” sticker on his Jeep which he plans to remove.

“I’m a human being, and he is, too,” Vear said. “I didn’t want to do that Tuesday night. I was shaking in my boots. Those were passionate words. Those are words from the heart. I’m one-eighth Abenaki … I don’t care if you’re of any ethnic background. I will not stand aside. If I see someone broken down beside the road, I will stop.”

Vear, 61, said he had met Isgro at a Republican caucus some time ago. Isgro was leading the meeting. Isgro asked for someone to be caucus secretary and no one raised a hand, so Vear did and he became secretary. But as time went on, Isgro wanted Vear to vote a straight Republican ticket and Vear told him he does not vote by party line, but for the person he sees as the best candidate. For instance, Vear said he voted for Bruce White, with whom he had attended school before White was elected a state representative from Waterville. That kind of “ruffled Nick’s feathers,” Vear said.

“It came to the point where he really kind of mandated that I vote Republican,” Vear said. “I could see where this was going. I resigned. Tell me who to vote for? No, I vote for who I want.”

Vear said his break with Isgro came slowly. It started after Isgro tweeted “Eat it, Hogg,” about David Hogg, a teenager in Florida who experienced a school shooting and is fighting for gun control.

When Isgro declared Columbus Day would continue in the city after the state changed the name to Indigenous People’s Day, Vear had to speak up publicly, particularly after Isgro tweeted about the rally, which Vear attended.

“This whole incident was the last straw,” he said. “It was the tear from my eye that over filled the bucket.”

Jay Coelho, pictured here speaking with residents at a city council meeting on April 3, 2018, denied on Friday allegations made by Mayor Nick Isgro that city councilors conspired with a resident to criticize the mayor at Tuesday’s council meeting. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Meanwhile, Isgro’s Facebook letter also criticizes councilors for voting 6-0 Monday to buy two used ambulances so that the city can start the process of transporting patients to hospitals.

Isgro says he set aside the resolution “Councilor Coelho was pushing through to purchase ambulances, pending further research over the next two days.”

“There was no bid process, no vetting or review of the numbers that were cooked up over the course of two closed door meetings and comments made that this would help with upcoming elections. I will continue to keep everyone updated as more information becomes available, but now we can see clearly that the character of councilors that play a good face in public, but behind closed doors are working to undermine the fabric of our city government.”

Coelho said Friday that he stands by his vote on the ambulances.

“This is no more than the mayor trying to divert attention to something else,” Coelho said. “He’s playing political football.”

Isgro’s email to the Morning Sentinel Friday says he spent more than an hour Thursday with fire Chief Shawn Esler and he feels better about the ambulance proposal. The reason councilors needed to take just one and not two votes on the plan is that the city borrowed money for a tower truck and had money left over, “but this was not the original intent of the bond,” Isgro wrote.

“While things seem to look good on the surface, the community has had almost no time to discuss such massive commitment, and no chance to review the numbers that were presented,” his email says. “With regards to the bid process the community needs an explanation. In the past when we’ve turned down local vendors over small amounts like $200-$300, we’ve heard lectures from the council about the importance of the bid process. All-in-all the council needs to get a handle on transparency with the community they are serving. At this time I’m reviewing all of my options on the resolution.”

Coelho said he likes Isgro, who visits Coelho’s shop on Main Street, and they have conversations that are not heated. But he thinks Isgro needs to concede defeat when it happens and learn from it. Coelho cited as an example the council’s 6-0 vote to recognize state holidays as the state does.

“If the mayor needs a scapegoat, I have broad shoulders — I can handle it,” Coelho said. “It’s always somebody else, not him. At some point, he has to start taking responsibility for the fuses he lights and walks away from.”

Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, Phil Bofia, R-Ward 2, and Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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